I am the opposite of a packrat. I am a thrower out of things. This tendency has only been amplified now that I live in a tiny house by the sea.
Tiny houses have very little room for stuff.
So it always surprises me to discover the things that I somehow manage to hold on to, despite wave after wave of spring cleaning purges, winter cabin fever cleanups, and fall dusting up dusting downs.
Yes, I engage in all of the above practices.
Today I noticed a thing on my dresser that I hadn’t really noticed in a very long time.
My friend Amy gave it to me when I was sixteen years old. I remember being bowled over by it, mainly because I thought it was so pretty and so fine, and Amy was the first friend I’d had who saw through the crabby tomboy exterior and somehow knew that I would want a vase with flowers and vines trailing all over it.
I remember thinking at the time that it was the nicest present I’d ever been given. And that no one had ever seen me as such a girl before then. It made me unreasonably happy, that vase.
And ever since then, I’ve kept it on my dresser.
Amy wasn’t like a lot of the friends I’d had until then. She was a little younger than me, which was unusual for me at the time. And she was always laughing and dancing and tossing around her long, wavy blond hair. I thought she was like sunshine.
As you know, I am generally like rain.
She brought over her boom box one afternoon and we twirled around in my mother’s front yard to the Violent Femmes. Then we painted our toenails a pale shade of lilac, and my next-door neighbor poked his head through the hyacinth hedge to inquire how it was possible that we had nothing better to do than to sit on my front porch and paint our toenails purple.
We corrected him, informed him that the word he was looking for was lilac, and no, we were sixteen. Of course we didn’t have anything better to do. What could possibly be better than this? It was summer, the sun was warm on our faces, and our toes were drying quickly in the short, soft grass.
Amy and her dad took me out for lunch once, to a place that I still visit almost weekly. We sat at a picnic table out front and played with the big, blond dogs that had the run of the place. Amy didn’t want to finish her sandwich, and her dad told her that she didn’t have to if she didn’t want to. I thought that was striking. I’d always felt that I needed to devour every last crumb of every single meal, simply because of the money that had been spent on the thing.
Something tragic had happened to Amy’s mother in the not too distant past. Died at the dinner table of a sudden aneurism, or something truly awful like that. So I always suspected that Amy’s sunshine was at least in part an act, or at the very least a shield, a defense, a suit of armor.
Later on, I think her dad disappeared for a while. Amy and I lost touch.
I kept the vase.
That was also the summer I had a crush on a boy who lived in the next town over. We went to a regional high school, so we had that magical moment when suddenly you were in class with kids you hadn’t known since you were five, boys you hadn’t seen crying in the back of art class, girls you hadn’t hated since forever. It opened up so many possibilities. A fresh start.
Alex was one of those boys, and oh my word but he was all wrong for me. Not all wrong in the way that I would discover and then relish so much as an adult — Alex was squeaky clean, from a big family, who dreamed one day of having a big family of his own. He was practically lifted straight out of the 1950s, Alex was so straight ahead and earnest and nice.
I carried a torch for him for years. We were buddies, nothing more. I never told him how I felt.
That spring, he had made an offhand comment about how much he hated the smell of lemons, because that was the scent of the baby powder his mother used. And since he was the oldest, and there were always babies in his huge, teeming family, it reminded him always of baby poop.
Alas, I was at the time wearing my favorite lemon-scented moisturizer.
I went out the next day to buy all new cosmetics, preferably in a totally new and vastly more sophisticated scent. Because of my burgeoning Anglophilia, I went straight to the new Crabtree and Evelyn store in the mall, believing with every fiber of my being that this store was the very height of imported sophistication and taste.
Then I decided, based on no evidence whatsoever, that Alex would prefer the smell of roses. And so I bought everything that they carried in that line.
Soap, shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, body powder. Whatever they sold with those little red rosebuds and green twining vine on the label, I spent my wages on that day.
I never found out if Alex cared for it or not, of course, since he was quite thoroughly and unapologetically not interested in me in that way, and all of the moisturizer in the world wasn’t going to change that. But I loved it. I loved it far beyond any high school crush, far longer than any pretended zeal for babies. I spent years buying that line of toiletries, only stopping many years later when I finally entered my strictly unadorned Zen phase, when I would only use plain Ivory soap and the ascetically unscented Lubriderm.
Then last year, my friend Melissa started carrying this in her shop.
It smells exactly the same.
Which is to say, of course, that it smells quite strongly, and somewhat cloyingly, and Melissa disliked it so much that she gave me several bottles of the stuff when she closed her shop a couple of months ago, just to get it out of her sight. Er, nose.
I had to promise not to wear it around her.
But every time I put some on — which is often — it reminds me of being sixteen, and of discovering the joy of blowing all of my money on something that makes me feel prettier than I usually do, more desirable than I had before, and more like I live in a storybook than I generally care to admit.
I think it is lovely. And made of sunshine.
And I just noticed today that I keep it next to Amy’s vase.
Isn’t that funny.